Monday 4 May 2020

Different Rules

2020 has been a very strange year. At the start of it, to celebrate the end of my two-year Regency immersion in the Furze House Irregulars, I decided to spring-clean my writing brain by diving into a new contemporary series of cosy village crime.

Almost instantly, my personal circumstances changed, which made writing a lot trickier, but still doable.

Then Covid-19 came along. Now, self-isolation for a writer is not so very different to 80% of my normal life, so I didn’t think it would make that much difference to me. Wrong. Very, very wrong. I turned out to be not at all good at coping with shortages, restricted movement and immense uncertainties in the real world. (I also still can't get my head around only one big shop a week rather than two normal-sized ones.)

Burying myself in writing was equally challenging. The new book I was writing was a contemporary. I flinched when my characters stood too close to each other or didn’t cross the road to avoid their friends. I broke out in a sweat when they went out for meals, popped into each other’s houses for coffee or had a pint in a crowded pub. It wasn’t just that, though. I found it actively impossible to write my whodunit ‘into the mist’ any more. I simply couldn’t cope with uncertainty inside my book as well as outside it. As I have never been able to plan my novels (I get bored with the writing once I know how events are going to pan out), I panicked. How was I going to write?

The answer for me was quite surprising. I went back in time. Different Rules has been waiting patiently on my To Do list for a very long time. I wrote it early in my writing career in what seems another lifetime. I loved it desperately, but after a couple of near-misses with the publishing world, I sensibly put it away to look at later and got on with other writing projects instead.

It was now later. I hauled it out from the depths of my hard drive, blew the dust off it, read it from beginning to end and still loved it. More to the point, I could see where the weak points were. 

Different Rules has been the absolutely perfect book to get me through this period. For a start, it is set in the 1990s, when times were gentler. It features a heroine who is flawed and loving and endlessly generous. Just inserting myself into Maggie’s skin made me feel better about life. Best of all, the book was already finished. I didn’t have the anxiety over where the story was going or how I was going to structure it. I’d already been through that angst. What I needed to do now was craft it into something more cohesive without losing its energy, its hope, and its promise that - eventually - all would be well.

I did it. I feel very much better about life. I hope reading it helps you as much as writing it has helped me.

The problem now, of course, is what to write next...


Susan Alison said...

What a lovely, constructive post. Thank you. xx

Jan Jones said...

Thank you, Susan. I am finding my own reactions to this pandemic endlessly surprising.

CeliaJAnderson said...

How lovely to hear! Thanks for sharing, Jan.(I feel exactly the same about planning.)

Jan Jones said...

Just can't do it, Celia. I'm very happy with editing a finished version, but as soon as I know what's going to happen, all desire to actually write it leaves me.

Lesley Cookman said...

I feel exactly the same, Jan. A Very Close Deadline isn't helping, either. And the shopping! Kids won't let me out, so I rely on daughter shopping once a week for the household, and I really can't cope with that. I'm really pleased that Different Rules has helped, and look forward to reading it. x

Jan Jones said...

Thanks, Lesley. It's daft, but I honestly think Normal Shopping is what I am most looking forward to!

Lyn Fegan (McCulloch) said...

Off to Amazon. Must catch up sometime, somewhere - eventually! Take care! Xx

Jan Jones said...

Thanks, Lyn. Hope you enjoy it!